How To Apologize, for Politicans and Companies Alike

From Brownlee’s neck of the woods — Dublin, Ireland’s industrial metropolis — we saw this article on issuing a good apology. Although primarily aimed at apologies issued by politicians, it should be taken as gospel by the hand waving, “We Understand Your Concern” PR gorgons we so actively loathe. We won’t sully Tom Savage’s points with any more forward commentary. Check it out:

All these factors tend to get in the way of the first key element of a functional apology, which is that it is timely. A delayed apology may lead to the accusation that it “took you long enough” or “it had to be beaten out of you”.

After promptitude, the next key factor in a good apology is acknowledgement — a clear public acceptance of the damage done, the wound inflicted and the outrageousness of the verbal assault. The tenet is: if the offender doesn’t articulate it, the offence festers.

For example, saying “sorry about that” when you have stood someone up cuts to the chase rather too quickly. The person stood up needs to hear you talk about how mortified they must have been, sitting on their own in the restaurant, how humiliating it was to have all the waiters sniggering, and how awkward the following day’s questions from co-workers were.

Mollification requires offenders to move from their own point of view to that of the other person and to make explicit their understanding of how the other person felt…

Even an acknowledgement doesn’t prevent the conditionality reflex kicking in. That’s where the offender says something such as “I’m sorry if you felt insulted by my comment”, which carries the implication that “what I said was okay, it’s just you got touchy about it”. Conditional apologies are lethal, complicating the original blow without any gain to the person making the apology…

Amen. There’s also a fascinating quote from Wodehouse we weren’t familiar with: “The right sort of people do not want apologies and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.” To be honest, this is the way we feel — apologies are only worth anything in situations where a company has made a mistake that is one-off and completely unresolvable. Otherwise, we don’t want the maudlin melodrama of an apology: we want resolution and assurances it won’t happen again.

Via Media Orchard, who are also having a contest to win a date with one of their writers in exchange for the most incoming links. In a shocking display of homophobia, however, they are only opening the contest up to girls. Considering the fact that Joel and Brownlee are both guys, and Popken will be one in a few months, we guess that leaves us shit out of luck.

Comment: Why sorry seems to be the hardest word [Sunday Business Post]